Freaky ‘Giant’ Shrimp May Threaten US Ecosystem [Video]

A foot-long invasive shrimp species could pose big problems for the US shrimping industry.

No one seems to know for sure how Asian tiger shrimp got here, but this particular crustacean has caught the attention of scientists and commercial fisheries. Unlike regular shrimp who are scavengers, the Asian variety is a predator that feeds on other sea creatures (such as other crabs, clams, and other shrimp), thereby raising the possibility of destabilizing the undersea environment. Perhaps more troubling, Asian tiger shrimp are apparently much more prone to disease than other crustaceans.

The Wall Street Journal suggests that the Asian species could interfere with commercial shrimpers in the Gulf of Mexico: “Adult tiger shrimp, whose native habitat stretches from southern Japan through Southeast Asia to South Africa, are known for distinctive black stripes, can grow to the length of a man’s arm and weigh as much as a pound. While the monster shrimp are just as edible as U.S. shrimp, marine scientists are trying to figure out whether they will upset local ecosystems and possibly supplant smaller brown and white shrimp, mainstays of the U.S. shrimping industry.”

According to one marine scientist, researchers have yet to determine if Asian tiger shrimp “will become an ecological nightmare”… “or just a bigger shrimp that you can eat.”

Asian tigers shrimp sightings have dropped this year, but that may be because commercial fishermen are cooking and eating them for themselves rather than turning them in to authorities. Gulf Coast shrimpers are also still trying to bounce back from the BP oil spill three years ago as well as trying to compete with cheaper Asian shrimp.

The federal government is conducting an investigation into the presence of Asian tiger shrimp. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and NOAA are now working with state agencies from North Carolina to Texas to look into whether these shrimp carry disease, compete for the same food source, or prey directly on native shrimp. An investigation is also underway to determine how this transplanted species reached U.S. waters, and what is behind a recent rise in sightings of the non-native shrimp.”

Individual US consumers eat on average about four pounds of shrimp per year.

As we have previously reported, shrimp prices are at a record high because of disease that is causing a shortage of the crustaceans. The disease is hurting supplies in Thailand, Vietnam, and China. The three countries are the world’s largest producers of shrimp, which is now approaching a record high market price of $6 per pound. Producers of the tiny crustaceans are blaming Early Mortality Syndrome on the shortage. The disease thrives in warm waters of Southeast Asia and has been worsening over the last few years.